On Parenting Kids that have Experienced Trauma

Foster Parenting

Trauma does weird things to kids.

And not always right after the fact. It can be years and years before anything shows up. And you may never really know what the actual trauma was.

For our little guy, he didn’t want to eat. Especially if he was upset. We had to sneak attack bottles, set timers and remind everyone to never ever ever ever warm it up.  Now, a few months after our adoption paperwork got started, I’m starting to find out why. But it’s been 15 months.  We had to sneak attack bottles, set timers and remind everyone to never ever ever ever warm it up. He still won’t drink things warm. He won’t eat if he’s tired. Or if he’s overwhelmed. Or if he got a new baseball mitt. Food is not a comfort for him. I’m not sure it ever will be.

For our girlies, I have little inklings of their trauma, but not much. Triggers that always surprise me.

One of the most valuable things that we learned before starting Foster Care was the idea of self-regulation. For the kids, yes. But even more importantly for the caregivers. We heard a lecture on staying as far away from your “red line” as you could. The place where you lose it, where you are totally and absolutely dysregulated. That’s your red line. There’s a great example of a window and how far it can open- the farther it can open the more you can handle. We want to widen that opening for our kids so they can handle more and more along the way. We want to widen it for ourselves so we can handle more.

This year I’ve had to learn how to keep myself far away from my line by asking for help, investing in myself and my marriage and by automating as much as I can. This goes for everything from groceries to housecleaners. Self-care isn’t a joke, you guys. It’s become a buzzword as of late and I’m so glad. But I do fear that we minimize it. Or feel silly for needing it. Or apologetic for a massage or new nails or a clean house. I wrote more about this in my post: We Should Probably Talk

I started to look for some great quotes on trauma but ended up feeling overwhelmed. “Stop being a victim.” “Don’t minimize your feelings, that’s just dissociation…” Some just referred to physical trauma, others to emotional. I’m not a therapist and I don’t have too much to add to this discussion.

So what can you take away from this? One: To take notice of where your redline is.

One: To take notice of where your redline is. Parent or not. Foster parent or regular parent. Male or Female. Employee or Employer. Human Person. Watching how close you are to your line will help you help yourself and others that much more effectively. Two: Be aware. I know we can’t always prevent kids from getting triggered, but we can maybe help them out if it’s happening. For our girls, it may be a nickname or nicknames of family members. Especially if that family member isn’t there and you use the word. For our baby, it may be giving him space if he’s bombarded. It’s not letting him cry too long.  For our bio kids, it may be extra kindness and space when family transitions are happening.

Two: Be aware. I know we can’t always prevent kids from getting triggered, but we can maybe help them out if it’s happening. We can offer extra grace. We can redirect and judge less and parent more effectively. For our girls, they may be triggered by a nickname or nicknames of family members. Especially if that family member isn’t there and you use the word. It’s too much for them. It may be making sure we always have enough milk or have more than enough snacks in the car. For our baby, it may be giving him space if he’s bombarded. He may be trigger by crying too long.  For our bio kids, they may need extra kindness and space when family transitions are happening. They may need space to be angry. To be rude. They may have been running on empty for way longer than any child ever should.

I’m working on my own triggers. I realized not long ago that my heart started racing when I went back to a certain doctor’s office. It did the same thing driving on a road I used to drive on all the time. Even though we aren’t on call for placements, I still get shaky when my phone rings and it’s an unknown number.

And I’m an adult.

How much harder do you think it is to deal with if you were a kid?

Highly Recommended Resources:

(from people that know what they are talking about)

Whole Brain Child

Beyond Consequences 

The Connected Child

The Boy Who Built A Wall Around Himself (picture book for kiddos)

Find more of our story this month on Instagram (@mixingplaydough). 

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